Monday, December 5, 2016

Devil's Island

Film: Condemned
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There’s a simplicity to early talkies that is attractive. While movies weren’t new, sound in movies was, and that meant that so much focus was put on that new innovation that plots were often simple, east-to-follow, and entertaining because of it. A single complication, typically associated with a romance, and you’ve got enough for something close to 90 minutes. Sure, they often tended toward melodrama and also had acting that was geared toward the back of the theater, but when they’re done well, there’s a particular charm to them. Condemned, which I found on YouTube today, is one of these movies, and it’s a pretty darn good one.

As mentioned in the paragraph above, the plot here is almost painfully simple. We start by witnessing prisoners being transferred to Devil’s Island, the French penal colony in Guyana. We’re then introduced to our main players. We have the warden, Jean Vidal (Dudley Digges), who is constantly upset with his wife, Madame Vidal (Ann Harding, and no, we don’t get a first name for her). His main problem is that he is ashamed that, as the wife of a prison warden, she demeans herself by doing all of the work around the house and won’t let him conscript a convict to act as combination butler/housemaid.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Head, Body, Head

Film: The Fighter
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I often like Mark Wahlberg in movies, but with the exception of Boogie Nights, I like him in supporting roles like The Departed so much better than when he is the focus of the film. I do always go into movies with as clean of a slate as I can, though, attempting to give every movie a fair shake and always wanting to like what I’m watching. So when The Fighter showed up, a movie starring Wahlberg, I heaved a sigh and dived in, hoping that Wahlberg might rise to the level of his best roles. Thankfully, he does, and he’s got a tremendous supporting cast to help him over the line.

The Fighter is the mostly-autobiographical story of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half-brother, boxer Dickie (spelled “Dicky” in the film) Eklund (Christian Bale). This is both a standard boxing story and a very different one in some ways. We’ll get a lot of the boxing tropes that have been around since boxing movies, but there’s also a great deal of social commentary going on here. While the tropes certainly exist in the movie, it’s worth noting that a great deal of this is based on the real life and experiences of Ward and Eklund.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Man Needs a Maid

Film: Diary of a Mad Housewife
Format: Internet video on laptop.

IMDB lists Diary of a Mad Housewife as both a comedy and a drama. Having watched it, if it qualifies as a comedy, it is only as the blackest sort. This movie is absolutely oppressive. Seriously, I’ve seen Holocaust documentaries that were less unrelenting. What we’re going to see is what we see in the opening couple of minutes as the housewife in question, Tina Balser (Carrie Snodgress) is run ragged with doorbells, phones, the dog, and just about everything else in rapid succession.

This is likely going to be a short review because there isn’t a great deal here to talk about. This is, at least the version that I saw, two hours of seeing a woman deal with being trapped in a life that she chose and that turned into something far different than she wanted or expected. Everyone in her life treats here with an astonishing amount of contempt. Not anger, not frustration, but pure contempt. She tries her best to deal with it, but everywhere she goes and everyone she meets treats her exactly the same way.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Late for Thanksgiving

Film: Alice’s Restaurant
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Alice’s Restaurant is one of those movies I’ve put off for a while. I’ve had a copy sitting on my desk for almost a month and just haven’t gotten around to it. I think a part of it is that I was unsure of Arlo Guthrie being enough to carry an entire film. Guthrie, who may well be a decent songwriter and talent in the folk music world, is someone who, it seems to me, is famous because his father was Woody Guthrie. I’m not sure Arlo gets any press or fanfare without his dad opening the door for him.

This is a difficult movie to pin down as well. It’s at least partly autobiographical, as is Guthrie’s song of the same name. The film, since it covers only a small portion of Guthrie’s life, is more a memoir than an autobiography, though, and a great deal here is fictionalized. However, there’s no getting around the fact that this is Arlo Guthrie playing Arlo Guthrie, dealing with the illness and eventual death of his father and with a few other things as well. Sure, it’s a somewhat fictionalized and (mildly) sanitized version of Arlo, but he’s not playing a character. He’s basically playing himself.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Long Mile

Film: Dead Man Walking
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The best opinion I’ve ever heard on capital punishment is one I can’t quote directly and can’t attribute to a specific person. Essentially, it goes something like this: “If it were my child that were killed, I’d be for the death penalty. If it were my child that had done the killing, I’d be against it.” When a movie shows up like Dead Man Walking, it brings up a lot of these questions. It puts me in a strange position. I’m not sure I really want to spend that much time thinking about capital punishment. It’s a hell of a movie with a number of tremendous performances and a great cast, but the issues are ones I’m not sure I really want to spend that much time thinking about. I realize that’s cowardly in a sense, but at least I admit it.

Dead Man Walking is based on the book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon). Sister Helen works with the poor, and is told that she has received a letter from a man named Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) who has been on death row for six years. Poncelet claims that while he was a part of the crime that put him on death row—the rape and murder of two young people—he didn’t actually kill anyone. He’s out of his legal chances now and needs someone else to attempt to push for additional appeals. Sister Helen is his choice, and as a nun, she feels compelled to help him in any way she can.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Completed Once Again

Film: Son of Saul (Saul Fia)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When the latest version of the 1001 Movies list came out, I’d seen seven of the new 10. It would seem, then, that finishing up would have been something I could pretty much handle in a weekend. And yet here we are, after Thanksgiving and close to the end of November, and I’m just putting the bow on the additions now. The reason for that is that I haven’t really wanted to watch Son of Saul (Saul Fia) that much. I’m not sure I can fully explain why, although I can try.

I understand on a rational level why there are so many films about the Holocaust. It’s the sort of thing that we need to remind ourselves happened. This is a part of history that needs to be constantly refreshed in the minds of the world, especially now that we are generations away from the actual events. But there’s also a limit, I think, to how much I want to spend in these events. I know a great deal of what happened. I understand, at least on an academic level, the horror of what happened. On an emotional level, I’m not sure how many more times I want to go through this wringer.